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Recap of episode 7 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

Going into Thursday’s episode, the playing field was leveled, each mentor had lost one contender.  Mentor Mondo Guerra has three challenge wins—Nick Verreos has one—and has aimed his arrows at Anya Ayoung-Chee who he calls his only competition.  The mentors stand to win a new 2014 Lexus 200h and some neat perks.  The designer who rules the runway walks away with U$100,000, a 2014 Lexus, a trip to Paris and tools to launch their career.

AnyaBlake#6_UnderGunn_DRAKES

Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee consults Blake Smith. Below: Mentor Mondo Guerra with mentee Sam Donovan. Bottom: Shan Keith constructs his garment.
Photos courtesy: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV.

Anya was feeling the heat from being a regular on loser’s row.  She took her own advice and stepped it up.  She dropped the girlfriend persona and donned drill sergeant armor this week to unleash her determination to prove she can mentor winners.   Hands clenched at her waist with shoulders as broad as a prison warden, Anya paced around mentees Nicholas Komor and Blake Smith, who were having difficulty realizing their vision into runway presentations.

During critiques, Anya barked: “You have to step up, you have to prove to me that I made the right choice, you have no more chances.”

“The really sweet Anya that we had has completely left the building,” snapped Blake.

Nicholas, whose portfolio persuaded me to believe he had longevity, also fooled Anya. MondoSam_UnderTheGunn_DRAKESAnya’s sixth sense smelled a fraud and needed proof that Nicholas was not a bootleg designer.  “We’ve reached a point where I want this more than you do,” explained Anya.  “I chose you out of what I believe is a tremendous amount of potential.  It came from work in your portfolio and impeccable construction.  Did you make these pieces?  Then why doesn’t anything look like this?”  That was a thick serving of humiliation.

Nicholas barely defended his integrity then failed to deliver the goods on the runway.

The challenge to create the fiercest look inspired by the steampunk genre came down to Natalia Fedner and Shan Keith, according to the judges. Shan#6_UnderTheGunnDRAKES Natalia invented a pulley to raise her dress.  Shan produced a well-tailored, deconstructed pant-suit fit for a “futuristic warrior”.  Shan heeded Anya’s advice to stay true to your voice and delivered the first win for his team.  Victory was bittersweet.  Team Anya also held the bottom two slots.

“I have realized that the designers are the drivers of their own journey, whether they’re inspired enough or not [to] take the inspiration of being at the bottom and turn into being on the top—I can’t do that for them,” offered Anya as a useful takeaway.

Anya didn’t receive return on investment from Nicholas, whom she saved from the chopping block once before, so it was a no-brainer for her to cut him loose.

We’re tuning in to see how long the taste of victory will last for Anya.

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Anya Targets Team Morale

Recap of episode 6 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

Armchair critics in the land of Carnival anticipated mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee’s team would slam-dunk a challenge to construct wearable designs inspired by costumes in a Roman gladiator flick and the Greek ambience of a palatial villa.  Anya’s foray into Carnival costume design, following her reality TV show win in 2011, is useful on a challenge where a minimalist approach trumps design that is too literal.

ImageThat might be the issue for Carnival enthusiasts who expect substance from bikini mas, they’re thinking too literally.  “Where the design?” jabbed a New York-based, Trini-born designer at an after party last week.  “She is a designer but what is that she calling mas.  Look at K2K mas, I see more fashion from those untrained twins than in her bikini and feathers.”  Such interrogation of design integrity and value has long shadowed Trinidad’s bikini mas movement.  Surely, it wasn’t an oversight by Anya.  In the age of the hustle for Twitter popularity, substance seldom precedes the quest for profit.

To steer her mentees toward the elusive prize, Anya acknowledged, “I recognize how morale can suffer from stagnation.  It’s time to step it up.”  During her workroom visit to guide garment construction, Anya attempted to nudge her team into kick-butt mode: “I feel you’re all holding back in effort to harmoniously get through this, I don’t think compromise is the right place to start, I think complimenting is what you’re trying to do.”

Image“In my experiences, there are a lot of moving parts when you’re dealing with a team challenge,” noted Mr. Gunn, “and you have to oversee all of those parts.”    In the workroom mentors scope the competition to compose their views.  Anya had a mouthful: “Mondo’s group looks a bit costumey.  [They] went a bit more literal, perhaps the judges will see something that I’m not seeing.”  She added, “Nick’s team seem to be very incongruent.”  The harshest stinger was slung by Mr. Gunn, “I’ll be honest, it was a pile of hot sticky diapers,” he said of Team Nick’s garments during construction.

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Top: The winning design by Oscar Lopez. Above: Oscar Lopez and Natalia Fedner collaborate to make it work for the team challenge. Here: Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee with mentees Nicholas Komor and Blake Smith.
Photos courtesy: Under The Gunn/Lifetime TV

Mentor Mondo Guerra assumed Anya’s team would be safe since their designs weren’t “conceptual or literal,” but safe translated to being picked for elimination.  Team Nick stole the show.   “Oscar became the king of my Pompeii,” cheered mentor Nick Verreos.  Oscar Garcia-Lopez pinned his imprint on each design in the three-look mini collection and took the overall win for his modern Grecian goddess look.

Judges lathered praise on Nick’s motley crew: “The romper is on trend,” “love how you layered a solid over the watery fabric,” and  “the minute elements of the studs, are the things that bring it together.”  The takeaway from Team Mondo: Avoid looking arts and craftsy. The spirit of comradery is good, even among competing designers, and always aim to be sophisticated and dynamic.

Sounding like a broken LP, Anya lamented: “Unfortunately, someone is going home from my team, that’s hard to wrap my mind around.”  Mentees Shan Keith and Nicholas Komor got slammed for delivering “a resounding failure.”  But Mr. Gunn threw Anya a lifeline, no one was eliminated.  Perhaps Anya needed to bait her struggling mentees with the incentive of a trip to taste the VVVVIP life in Trinidad, and share that shuttle service she gets on Carnival Tuesday so she can air kiss cameras at judging points.  We’ll be tuning in to see who gets drop-kicked from the A-List.

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Anya Escapes Unscathed

Recap of episode 3 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

Industry trendsetters and followers are planning their outfits and schmooze scripts to attend Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York next Thursday.  Absent from the main runway shows posted online, is the Asian stylista we’ve been watching on cable TV ever since she learned to sew.  If ‘Under The Gunn’ mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee feels the pressure of the streets talking, she knows the clock is ticking for those eager to buy her collections off retail racks in Saks or H&M.

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Challenge winner Sam Donovan from team Mondo. Photos: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

Till then, Anya gets to cultivate a fan base by inviting prospective clients to survey her process and rational via reality TV.  In the first challenge to threaten elimination of a mentor on Project Runway: Under The Gunn, the12 designers were required to create a red carpet look in one day after an inspirational tour of the textures of Hollywood.  Some designers were clueless that the show is partly based on the premise of executing one’s imagination under the pressure of time constraint.  Mentors Mondo Guerra and Anya supported their designers in delivering their individual interpretation of glam.  While mentor Nick Verreos got too hands-on and caused Mr. Gunn to stab a stiletto into his over-draped dress train.  “Nick is being a control freak, he is micromanaging at a level that I could not even imagine,” griped Gunn.

The Mentors: Nick Verreos, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Mondo Guerra in the workroom with Stephanie.

The Mentors: Nick Verreos, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Mondo Guerra in the workroom with Stephanie.

Team Anya sailed through judging unscathed.  Sam Donovan from team Mondo delivered a two-toned jumpsuit that earned U$5,000 and will be worn by a celeb then published in Marie Claire.  For simply making “a pillowcase,” Camila Castillo got that one-way ticket back to Venezuela that her mentor Mondo predicted.  Anya counted her lucky stars that three of her mentees chose her over Mondo.  She has a strong team that suits her aesthetic and diva-free personality.  I can’t imagine her spitting the diva drama reality TV tends to demand, but if she can bring it, I’ll be front row to score her performance.

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Team Anya: (clockwise) Blake Smith, Brady Lange, Anya Ayoung-Chee, Shay Keith and Nicholas Komor.

As we watch Anya navigate the learning curve to becoming a mentor, she has been busy with a crash course on how to broker the appeal of her image.   As the Carnival season neared, she allegedly pitched a proposal to install a pop-up shop in a luxe hotel in Port-of-Spain.  But donating prime real estate during peak season to the young designer, just to have Anya posing pretty in their lobby, doesn’t put a penny in a hotel’s till.  The takeaway for her mentees: assure the deals you spin deliver deposits for all principal players, and skip the request for a discounted room.

During her moment in the confessional, mentee Natalia Fedner admitted, “I have to prove to people why I am here.”  You wonder if Anya shares that sentiment as she courts investors, shapes her brand, and explores the possibilities of becoming a celebrity.  It’s a complex game for a reality TV vixen who can elicit admiration from sharp-witted critics.  We’re tuning in to see Anya pattern a strategy to dodge another cut.

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Making The Cut

Recap of episode 2 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

“In the workroom it gets kind of tense, there all sorts of psychological games that start to happen, my mentoring is also going to be about how to play the psychological games,” advised Anya Ayoung-Chee to her four mentees.   Well, that teaser excited radars, who wouldn’t want to peep the playbook used to negotiate the illusion of honesty and authenticity some use to get ahead in the reality TV game.

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There is no debate, Anya has an abundance of talent and ambition.  To make the cut to join her boys club, each designer endured her soft-spoken scrutiny.  In case you missed her notes: Anya’s not fond of nervous energy as witnessed with Natalia, nor over-styling which is Oscar’s trademark, and your garment better not underwhelm as evidenced by Stephanie.  Yet, each of Anya’s rejects got plucked from obscurity by mentor Nick Verreos and given the chance to knock her out.

Anya’s charged with grooming four young men for runway battles that will change their lives.  Brady Lange’s style is relaxed and youthful, Shan Keith channels the urban vibe that Anya digs, Blake Smith and Nicholas Komor are mellow souls that deliver edge with upmarket finesse.

From the 15 candidates, only 12 became mentees advancing to challenges to be judged by entertainers, editors, and the divine Ms. Klum.  Anya filled three slots in round one of mentee selection, and found herself “in a bind,” to quote Mr. Verreos, with just one vacancy and many bold voices to choose from in round two.  “I didn’t expect this seven to be as strong as they are; they are pushing the boundaries more,” admitted Anya.

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Photos: Under The Gunn/LIFETIME TV

Mentor Nick revealed his arrows are aimed at Anya: “I don’t know how Anya is gonna discuss construction with these designers when she barely finished a garment her whole season [on Project Runway].”  Ouch!

The road ahead is no stroll in the park for these mentors.  Their brand and street creds may be tainted based on the pointers they pass to their contenders.  Tim Gunn, the show’s patriarch, is there to spoon servings of wisdom.  “Mentoring is very individualized based on the designer with whom you are working,” he advised.  Anya’s approach to design, business and mentoring is informed by her mentor at 6 Carlos Street.  We assume as she tweaks her team, she’ll impart that she learned the ‘M’ in Meiling is for meticulous, which should be evident in the details of a garment.

The formula for selecting teams felt like the recipe for paella.  Anya was glued to gut moves and used gender to her advantage.  On the flipside, Mondo was hardnosed and deemed over-designing a red flag and dismissed designs for being safe.  While Nick scoured for “who can do everything, not something that’s in stores now; I want to see the future of fashion.”  Odds are that Shan and Brady won’t get much playtime with the mind games of the workroom, we’ll be tuning in to see how long team Anya can make it work.

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Anya Goes ‘Under The Gunn’

If you’re one of the fashionistas who have been surfing cable TV channels to find what stylista Anya Ayoung-Chee has been up to since branding her name to a bikini mas section last Carnival, surf no more.  Last Thursday, Anya, who is officially a reality show starlet with nine lives, showed up on the new fashion challenge reality show ‘Under the Gunn’ on the Lifetime channel.Anya_UTGTim Gunn, the heartwarming mentor to emerging designers on Project Runway, stepped off the catwalk and onto his own stage with a show branded with his name and accessorized with his flare and flavor for coaching.

The show is fashioned after the singing competition series The Voice, where mentors build teams to coach into battle to crown just one winner.  Anya, the winner of season 9 of Project Runway, wears a mentor cap on ‘Under the Gunn’ along with popular PR alumni Mondo Guerra and Nick Verreos.

Gunn introduced Anya as “one of the most recognized fashion designers to emerge from the Caribbean, who has continued to grow her lines.”   By comparison his reveal of the other mentors was punctuated with celebrity name-dropping: Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood and Beyonce as clients of mentor Nick, and a generous plug for Mondo’s eyewear collection and shoe line.

Being on reality TV has become a progressively tough spotlight to navigate for some, due to the barrage of homeschooled bloggers who scrutinize every smirk and twerk to spark scandal-worthy buzz.  Anya seems undiscouraged and game to negotiate the ebb and flow of the real world of reality TV.

It wasn’t obvious that she was wearing her own designs, but she has ditched the shaven head style and filled out some in the face.  For a moment I wondered if there might be a mini-Anya in the oven.  But then I recall hearing she quietly swapped Imageher fiancé Wyatt Gallery for another lover that we’re yet to be formally introduced to.

Back to the show.  The sense that these mentors are speaking unfiltered truth on a relateable level to their peers, gives this show an edge that’s not part of the Project Runway format.  If you distill the notes Anya, Mondo and Nick share, you’ll find useful takeaways that can be embraced as golden rules to attaining success in the cut-throat business of ready-to-wear fashion.

To build her team of four, Anya’s process entails assessing “how they work, what they present and their perspective [point of view].”  She believes mentoring ought to be tailored to who you’re mentoring.  Anya shunned Camila for being a safe, one-note act, but desired Michelle for her “tenacity and ability to find solutions.”

Anya_Mentors_DRAKES

Photos courtesy: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

Students and intuitive designers who never had a mentor coach their career should take notes.  We anticipate a few hard pills and tough love, the diva debates and weeping Wilmas in each episode.  Since Mondo promised “the boxing gloves are gonna come out,” we’ll also tune in for a trampy beat-down.

While ‘Under the Gunn’ encourages audience interaction, Trinis can’t vote for their Anya to win a 2014 Lexus CT 200h car and a guest editor gig with Marie Claire magazine.  If her team fails she leaves the show without top prize, but she still has seven reality TV lives in the bank.

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Artist Peter Sheppard earns honor for magical,
imaginative compositions of Trinidad’s splendor

The Northern Range is sumptuous and nurturing as she cradles the western corner of the capital city.  The rainy season shaped the Range into a palette of greens that is dusted with gold leaf by the afternoon sun.  This isn’t a description of an imagined composition painted by Peter Sheppard—who’s known for condensing majestic scenes into miniature art—this is the view from his cozy patio perched on Fort George in Trinidad.

The eldest of three, Sheppard was born to be a painter.  His parents, Stephen and Margaret, painted and encouraged their children to paint.  “I remember Christmas and birthday gifts were usually three small canvases and a pack of paints.”  He would cut the 5”x7” gift canvasses in half.  Sheppard often toured Trinidad’s mountainous and coastal terrains.  “My dad used to drive me around on the weekends, not just to Maracas, but long drives across Trinidad,” recounts Sheppard.  The natural splendor of Trinidad he encounters is weaved into enchanting eco scenes that exist only in his mind.  “The quaintness of this land appeals to me.”

Sheppard_4519DRAKESIn Form 4 he studied technical drawing.  “I was doing building drawing rather than mechanical drawing; I was attracted to perspective, and box houses were one thing I used in my perspective practice.”  Those simple houses helped him develop a comprehension of perspective and sense of depth, and they became as commonplace as rivers and bamboo in a Sheppard miniature.  His paintings of box houses dressed in bright hues appealed to tourists.  Seventeen-years-old at the time, Sheppard found a niche.  Soon his 3”x4” paintings were fetching $35 at the Art Buyer’s Fair with the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.

In the Caribbean market, the value of fine art is influenced by exhibition sales, gallery curator’s appraisal, demand from collectors, and illustrious affiliations.  Sheppard, 46, is yet to mount a solo exhibit beyond Trinidad’s shores, but last May he attained an honor that is a game changer.   The Hilliard Society of Miniaturists in Wells, Somerset, is a 31-year-old fraternity of artists who paint miniatures; the society was founded by Sue Burton.  Though Sheppard has been painting for 30 years, he says, “I discovered in the last 5 years, that miniatures are my signature.”

On his first attempt to get into Hilliard’s juried show, Sheppard’s work was rejected because the surface of his paintings was a distraction.   “I paint on canvas paper and the pores of the PeterShep4599DRAKEScanvas were a distraction for them,” explains Sheppard, “remember, they scrutinize miniatures under a magnifying glass.”  The second year he submitted a monochromatic quartet from his “Blue” show—all four sold.  “That was something that stood out,” says Sheppard.  “It’s West Indian-themed but the way it was presented was contemporary—the work used cobalt blue paint.”  In 2013 his submission was mounted on masonite board, a surface as smooth as a kitchen countertop.  He lathered them in gold then applied his landscapes.  As Sheppard describes: “I was painting with a smile on my face.  I enjoyed painting the details with the gold luster underneath it, it’s really rich [work].  I sent them to London with such good energy.”  Then he got a phone call with an unofficial announcement, that he is being awarded the Sue Burton Memorial Award for Best in Show.  Jackpot!  Sheppard’s third try, beat 80 competitors and earned him £1000 and coveted recognition.

What’s next?  Possibly a show at the TT High Commission in London, and a collaboration that pairs his passion for food and lush landscapes with his fine art.  “I love the miniatures, because it’s how I interpret nature, everything is delicate and precise and neat.  When I get into a painting I go into a trance, it puts me at peace.  The handling of the painting is very delicate, time consuming and very controlled.  All the things I’m telling you are the complete opposite of my personality type.”

Isaiah Boodhoo and Carlisle Chang are artistsPeterShep4567DRAKES Sheppard admires, but he credits the late Wayne Berkeley, who designed theatrical sets and costumes, with inspiring his technique.   “You look at my paintings and there’s a backdrop, then wings coming in on the left and right,” describes Sheppard.  “It’s always like I make paintings into a 3D stage set.  I paint the background first and I start bringing the work forward.”

His largest work measured 2 meters x 5 meters and took six weeks to complete.  “I just felt like pushing the edges of the canvas out.  [Sometimes] I feel I want to express [nature] bigger.  Everything is still meticulously placed in those big paintings, and I am still using a 000 brush.”   It’s a painstaking process.  Sheppard chuckles as he repeats a comment often heard: “Dat is mad people work.”  But to his collectors, Peter Sheppard is madly in love with creating miniatures that reflect his fascination with “all things to do with the Northern Range.”

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Powder and Personal Space

Why do people paint their neck with powder, and what is the origin of that ritual, are questions that provoked the curiosity of artist Marlon Griffith for many years.  His curiosity was deepened by derogatory comments like, ‘Yuh look like fish about to fry,’ that are commonly slung at people sporting a powdered neck.  “How does this simple thing get people riled up?” wonders Griffith.  “When I asked people why do they wear powder, most say they grew up doing it to keep cool.  And how do they feel when people make comments, a lot don’t care, some feel really hurt.”

Artist Marlon Griffith in Belmont with his Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla installation.

In 2009, Griffith, an illustrator from Belmont who lives in Nagoya, Japan, constructed a photographic project around powdered necks, titled The Powder Box Schoolgirl Series.  He cast girls in school uniforms and incorporated iconic logos into his narrative on branding Black bodies. “Coming from a Carnival background I thought it would be interesting to use it as a kind of intervention to comment on things that are happening around us, and to empower the person that is wearing the powder.”

“It was key to pick specific schools where the powder neck girls are.  I attended Tranquility [Government Secondary],” says Griffith, 35, “which is one of those schools.  Around the corner was St. Joseph’s Convent, you wouldn’t find a girl in St. Joseph’s with powder around their neck.  It comes from your background, class, the kind of people you interact

From the Powder Box Schoolgirl Series. Courtesy Marlon Griffith.

with.  Most people, when they see it, get disgusted by it.  For me, doing that part with the schoolgirls brought up a bigger dialogue with the branding.  Branding plays a very big part of urban culture here.  Everybody wants to look like the rapper on TV.  Having the student wear [a logo] image says a lot about where a young [person’s] head is at, and the kind of interactions they have with people.  It says a lot about the education system and how students and educators perceive each other, and the kind of relationships they have.”

Griffith’s Powder Box project first received attention for an exhibit at Real Art Ways.  “Right after that [curators] started picking up this image, it was everywhere, except in Trinidad,” notes Griffith.  “It was being published and written about, I won a Guggenheim, still, nothing here.”

The Powder Box series expanded and mounted with The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla. Photos: Sean Drakes

Last July, Griffith’s images finally surfaced in Trinidad, on a radio station’s Facebook page.  They were posted without credit and out of context with the caption: “Nex level Powderneck … would you wear it?”  The most vile comment Griffith noticed on that thread read: ‘These young women look like prostitutes, only prostitutes wear powder around their neck like that.’  Griffith is intrigued by “how we look at one another in this space; there is a lot of work to be done.”  He hopes his series helps the process of elevating awareness of how we interact.

In the three years since Griffith migrated, he was awarded a two-year John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and a Commonwealth Connections arts residency.  He has taken a wife, Akiko, has a son, Sora (10-monhts old), learned to write and speak Japanese, mounted installations in Japan, and adjusted to a diet of fish, brown rice, vegetables and tofu.  “Regular exercise, no KFC, no heavy starches.  There is KFC there, but it’s not that

The Granderson Lab in Belmont on opening night of Griffith’s three-day exhibit.

popular.  KFC is big at Christmastime in Japan.”  “I am very happy.  I’m not a starving artist in Japan.”

In the travel narrative The Middle Passage by V.S. Naipaul, the author is on board the Spanish immigrant ship Francisco Bobadilla bound for Trinidad.  Griffith returns to Belmont to expand his Powder Series with the installation project The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla, which references Naipaul’s narrative on relationships in uncomfortable space.  The installation is mounted from Oct. 31 to Nov. 2, 2012 at the Granderson Lab in Belmont.

“I am using galvanize to keep a connection to all that galvanize you see when you look out the windows.  In the installation you have different point of views,” explains Griffith, “in the middle of the installation there’s a projection.  I wanted to simulate the idea of walking down a street or a lane.  Belmont has many tight lanes.  There’s a voyeuristic quality moving around these spaces.  Depending on where you live, if you open your window you might be looking into someone’s bedroom.  Many streets run into somebody’s house or a dead end.  Very much like the installation, you walk into a dead end.”

The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla by Marlon Griffith.

A projection of a girl applying powder takes viewers into personal space and provides a link to Griffith’s Powder Box Series.  “I see it as a performance,” he adds.  “With this [Bobadilla project] I decided to focus on the relationships of people within a particular community … navigating trying to be comfortable in an uncomfortable environment.”

Early stage of The Ballad of Francisco Bobadilla installation by Marlon Griffith.

“Since I’ve been back I’ve found the environment to be much more uncomfortable.  There are more police patrols in Belmont.  Yesterday a woman’s throat was slit around the corner.  A lot of personal spaces that I am familiar with no longer exist.  The dynamics of Port-of-Spain have changed, so have the people in response to those changes.”

The Bobadilla project is a collaboration with Alice Yard.  Griffith didn’t appoint a wordy artist statement to the work because, “Not everybody is going to be convinced by what you say.  People have to experience before they can make their own assessment.  I may have my ideas about it, what’s interesting about artwork in general is, art is something that evolves over time.  As the artist you have an idea of what this thing is and what it should do, but then people make it more than what you thought it was or could be.”

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Minshall Exhibits Early Works

Peter Minshall.

Patience and persistence are paying off for art gallery owner Yasmin Hadeed.  “Year after year, for about five years, I asked Ashraph, let’s do a show with Minshall,” recaps Hadeed.  “This year, I spoke to Ashraph everyday for like a month—I’m  obsessed.”  Hadeed, 41, owner of Y Art Gallery, and Richard Ashraph Ramsaran, 46, artist and owner of The Frame Shop, finally got the timing right.  When Ashraph approached Peter MInshall around the Independence holiday with a proposal for a show, Minshall was receptive.

But when they finally got the greenlight, they would have only three weeks to explore the treasure trove at the Callaloo Company warehouse, survey works in Minshall’s studio, research, edit, sequence the show and produce a catalog.  “It was never about doing a Carnival show,” affirms Hadeed, “it was just about doing a show by him.”  The show they’ve choreographed offers viewers an abridged chronological journey of the artist’s career, but bypasses his impressive imprint on the Olympic Games.

“There are about 45 pieces for this show,” estimates Hadeed.  “I have always been interested in seeing the works of Minshall, and have more or less always kept abreast of what he has done.  It was not necessary for me to preview the work to determine which to choose, since, in my opinion, they are all breathtaking.  However, due to the time frame and scale of what we wanted to achieve we decided on this amount.”  Hadeed anticipates “an overwhelming response to this show.”  “This is a pivotal moment for an art collector, gallery owner or someone who appreciates the arts generally.  We are showing another side of Minshall.  It is important for us to give our appreciation to him for his contribution to the art community as a whole, not just as a mas man.”

“Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire” by Peter Minshall.

Minshall Miscellany loosely traces the career of a versatile artist who earned an Emmy Award for his designs.  The exhibit is intimate and has an ebb and flow that befits a designer of drama and queens. The show includes paintings for commissioned works and the mas band Tantana. FIve decadent renditions of elegant and intricate designs for Jaycees Carnival Queen contestants open the show.  They date from the 1970s, and are set beside illustrations of stage designs Minshall executed during his years in London, which preceded his involvement in the Jaycees pageant.

Like many artists, Minshall believes comprehension of design principles is transferable to other creative disciplines.  “Because you didn’t really have any understanding of what art was,“ reflects Minshall, in the second person, on his youth, “everything was everything. Hollywood, Esther Williams, Ziegfeld Follies, The King and I, and art exhibitions were all one and the same.  You had absolutely no sense of discrimination.  So there was this Jaycees Carnival Queen, there were costumes for it and dresses, and you were hardly 16 or 17 and you had a bash.  And you did it in the style of the time.  And it was like designing the colours for jockeys who rode horses at races.  The Jaycees Carnival Queen was like a horse race.  It didn’t matter that most of the horses were fillies and white.  The whole of the country bet on them as if it were a horse race.  The evening gowns had to have a theatrical, dramatic edge.  These weren’t gowns that young ladies would wear to a cocktail party.  These were gowns on a very large stage, so they had to have evening gown fashion-theater about them.”

“I do feel anxious,” admits Hadeed, who has been a gallery owner for 20 years, and has exhibited most of Trinidad’s prominent visual artists.  “It has been an amazing opportunity to showcase Minshall at my gallery.”  “Angel Astronaut stands out to me, it represents a complete embodiment of what he is about.”  The most challenging aspect of the edit process for Ashraph and Hadeed was reducing how many of Minshall’s ‘heads’ are included. That outlined profile of a bald man’s head set in a circle is synonymous with Peter Minshall.  It seems he has produced hundreds of works, each unique, around that head which he found in a photograph on the cover of a 1966 Carnival supplement.

“Mask of the Peacock” by Peter Minshall.

“Everybody thinks it is me.  No it’s not me,” declares Minshall, 71.  “I was so fascinated by this head.  I don’t know who he is, but it connected with me in a visceral way.  He became my ‘everyman’ and I call him The Coloured Man.   My first exhibition of paintings, many years ago, ran by that title, The Coloured Man.  He reappears in this exhibition.  That is why the exhibition is called Minshall Miscellany.  I have returned to him many times during my life and he has not in any way lost his potency.  And it’s amazing that people absolutely think it’s me.  It’s some person who I don’t know who is my ‘everyman’, and ‘everywoman’.  The face so lends itself, chameleon-like, to become whoever or whatever.  He becomes a macaw, he becomes Princess Diana, Marilyn Monroe, just give him the right accoutrements and he plays his mas perfectly.”

The work that ends the show’s sequence is a self-portrait.  Minshall reserves the backstory to the piece.  “People are going to go into the gallery and see the work, I don’t want to destroy the magic of the work,” explains Minshall.   “The name of it is Face-off: The Artist Sober and The Artist Drunk.  That says it, doesn’t it?  I am there contemplating myself.”

“Please look at the exhibition and when you look at it understand how complex each and every one of us as human beings are, from the beauty queen to the two gentlemen sitting on bar stools contemplating one another—one sober, one drunk.”  “I have to thank Ashraph and Yasmin for bending my arm,” adds Minshall.  “My one contribution to the exhibition that makes me sit pretty and happy is the unpretentious title that I gave it, Minshall Miscellany.”

Exhibit runs Oct. 21 – Nov. 5, 2012 @ Y Art Gallery, 26 Taylor Street, Woodbrook.

  © SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com ]

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Peter Minshall: A Living Work of Art

Almost Famous

Abroneka is aiming to become R&B royalty

Unknown girl group Abroneka wants to become a household name, but they won’t sing soca.  They have been writing, rehearsing, and perfecting their harmonizing skills for over seven years, now, they’re being shopped to US record labels and are banking on becoming Trinidad’s first R&B export.

The kids-from-the tough-inner-city-with dreams-of-stardom storyline is a  familiar script.  The reason Abroneka’s first chapter is worth your attention is largely due to the credibility of the accomplished team that grooms their sultry vocals, arranges their music, and polishes their tracks.  Champion Sound Studios has mastered Road March and Soca Monarch-winning tracks for Machel Montano, Iwer George, Fay-Ann Lyons, JW & Blaze, and Shurwayne Winchester, while patiently preparing to introduce Abroneka to the North American market.

METRO went in studio with Crissy Abigail Fraser, 23, Rhonda Bobb, 26, and Kandis Dyer, 28, before they set off on their version of an Olympic quest to earn platinum and popularity.  A chance meeting in 2005 on the set of Synergy Friday Night Live brought the trio together.   After each girl displayed her vocal chops, Rhonda secretly noted who she would team up with to form a group.  “Then I took a breath and popped the question: Allyuh want to start a group?!”  Junior Lewis coached and produced them, then brought Abroneka to Martin Raymond at Champion Sound Studios.  Abigail says Albert Bushe, their former vocal trainer, called their sound “soca pop, a mixture of R&B, soca and dance music.”  That was 7 years ago.  Today, the tracks they have shipped to US record labels are strictly in the R&B and dance genres.

What will distinguish Abroneka from EnVogue, Spice Girls or Destiny’s Child is yet to be determined.  At the moment it’s not lyrical content.  Abigail, Rhonda and Kandis summarize that though their ballads are sung with vibrancy, they tend to write about “heartbreak, a first time crush, and bad experiences.”  But for good measure, they paired an uplifting message with an upbeat tempo for a track titled “Dancefloor Ain’t Gonna Be Lonely”.

Abigail and Kandis hail from the Beetham, and Rhonda is from Maraval.  By day they’re retail sales clerks.   But when dusk descends they’re in the studio breathing life into their lyrics.  They’re disciplined and determined to realize a musician’s ultimate dream.  “We all come from a musical family, it’s in our blood,” shares Rhonda.  “The area where I grew up is a bit hostile,” explains Abigail, “there is a lot of heartbreak, a lot of poverty, a lot of negativity that could make you either go negative or positive.  I take [all that] and use it as a positive and write a way that people can get out of it.”

Their singles “Close Your Eyes” and “I Like It with the Lights On” are destined to attract contracts and airtime in America’s key urban markets.  To get Abroneka in the mood to convert lyrics into groovy tracks simply requires a beat.  “When we hear a beat we flow with it,” shares Abigail.  When arranger Gregg Assing played a beat for the girls, they instinctively felt it was “sexy, nice” and directed them to close your eyes.  “We started harmonizing, once you have the feeling the words flow,” adds Rhonda.

When they attain success they have another mission:  “My community made me grow up to be a very headstrong young lady,” admits Abigail.  “I want to give back educationally.”  To become recording champions representing T&T, Abroneka dismisses the “comfort zone” mindset they say Trinis enjoy, and embraces the Jamaican hunger to win.  “They [Jamaicans] push harder, they really fight for what they believe in, what they want they really go for it,” asserts Abigail.  “There is talent here, not just soca and wining.  They can write, produce, sing any kind of music…they have the talent, they just don’t have the hunger the Jamaicans do.”  Yet, Abroneka will fly the Trinbagonian flag when they mount that Grammy Awards podium.

© SEAN DRAKES

Recently published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]

The Polished Canvas

Shalini is one of the luckiest underexposed artists I have met.  She has a work studio larger than the average one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, and it’s set on sprawling acreage behind her family’s house in the Central plains on the island of Trinidad.  The spicy, curry aroma that greets us on this Friday afternoon, signals the savory feast her housekeeper has prepared for grateful guests.

Few know that Shalini Seereram, 36, is relentless about being recognized as an original.  To safeguard that objective she fervently budgets how much art by other artists she consumes.  “I don’t mingle much with similar artists.  I would go to [their] show, but I’d rather get to know the people rather than the art.  I don’t really like to hobnob at certain shows.  I would go the day [after opening night].  I don’t want their style to entirely influence me,” she reasons.

The subjects in the paintings she dreams up to illustrate magazine editorials and to realize her imagination, bear three trademarks: intense colors, bold, crisp lines, and yoga-like contortions.  Shalini considers herself “mostly self-taught,” though she studied jewelry design with precious metals and graphic design at John Donaldson Technical Institute in Port of Spain.  She explored “everything from sketching to photography” during her enrollment.  “I got exposed to so much that it was overwhelming.”  She adds, “The commercial art program encouraged me to be adventurous.  I was influenced by Christopher Cozier; he was my tutor for two years at John D.”  Shalini was 20 when she graduated to pursue a career.  “I had this passion for art without [a] specific direction.  I just knew art would be a part of my life.”

Studying jewelry design grew from wanting to create three-dimensional work, but she was unwilling to subject her creativity to the compromise that comes with making bangles and chains based on someone else’s vision.  “[The] perception [that] we are still people who are toting water all over the place, living in old chattel houses, hanging up washed clothes while looking at barren cane fields … I am not into that (she smirks).  We are more than that.”  You won’t find humble wooden homes and sun-kissed clotheslines in a Shalini original.  “I am not going to sell myself that short.”

Two years ago Shalini noticed her work started to reflect her East Indian heritage.  “My subjects are not entirely distinguished as Indian or African, at first.  I started to paint people not regarding ethnicity as much  All of a sudden the fine detailing that I like started to creep out of me; and I [became] more exposed to fabrics and colors of the Indian culture,”  She explains.  “That’s where I am in 2007 with my process.”

Among Shalini’s 19 exhibitions, her 2006 “Rite of Passage” show that was installed in Trinidad then Washington, D.C. is a stand-out because with that collection she “explored a sensual side of Indian culture.”  That show also offered her the most memorable exhibition experience:  “A guy came up to me and told me he sold his Jackie Hinkson to buy my piece [for about U$1,500].”  Shalini admires Gustav Klimt‘s use of gold in his work, and Modigliani; she discovered both artists after receiving compliments that likened her style to those icons.  She also admires how Carlisle Harris uses color and Glasgow’s application technique.  Shalini defends her approach to abstract painting as original, and questions why she should “feel proud” that her work invokes Matisse or Picasso for some.

Ashraph, a fellow artist, Renelle, Shalini’s confidante, and I browse unframed early works as Shalini opens shutters as gentle rains drift from Chandernagore Village.  Some of her 12 adopted dogs stretch near the door.  She says they each strolled onto her yard, one after another.  And claimed a piece of her warm heart.  A work-in-progress awaits on a tabletop easel near dozens of bottles of vivid nail lacquer.  Larger works hang near a shiny, black boxing bag.

Shalini believes she has crossed  the starting line during the 15 years she’s been in the marketplace, yet she is restrained.  “I could be holding myself back not knowing the next step.”  She wants to be a serious player in the fine art world, but is yet to refine and train her strategy on a prize.  “I get up in the morning and I sketch.  If I leave home I carry a sketchbook; I sketch, I sketch, I sketch.”  Few sketches reach completion without delay or the catalyst of an exhibition deadline.   Ashraph confronts her anguish: “You need to step out of your comfort zone.”  “I don’t know how to,” retorts Shalini.

The creative chi that fuels Shalini’s work usually emerges in the dark, lonely night.  She is eccentric, modest, and Hindu.  “I pray for the higher power…the electricity going through our body, and peace and sustenance,” she offers.  “There are others who do deity celebrations.  I don’t, though I would reference the stories and background that deities represent.”  That odd boxing bag is another agent in Shalini’s cleansing and spiritual regimen.

“My dad used to get into fights with me,” she recounts.  “We always butt heads and I would get angry and hit a wall, which is not good for somebody who should insure their hands instead of damage them.”  She found the bag in a mall two years ago and also gets a good cardio workout with it.

Shalini envisions exhibiting across the Caribbean region and beyond, but what her work evolves into and how that work translates are the first evaluations she’ll need.  She notices, “People see my pieces being broken down into stained glass.”  Her urge to explore her creative potential and find durable canvasses for her nail polish paintings, led her to toy with glass panes then old chattel windows.  She found a good fit for what she calls “fusion pieces.”  “I started using $3 nail polish because it was more affordable than paying $46 for a tube of acrylic.”  When working on paper she employs oil and iridescent acrylics, and reserves nail polish for accent areas to satisfy any concern about durability.

Shalini trusts her go-with-the-flow spirit will continue to serve her imagination and career as it did one slow afternoon:  “I was [a graphic artist] at McCann-Erickson Advertising.  One day, I went downstairs to a drugstore and noticed the beautiful colors of nail polish. I bought some polish and started to [paint with] it on matte board.  One polish led to two; before the end of the week I bought 15 colors,” recalls Shalini.  During a later purchase the sales clerk asked: “I am noticing that you come in every day, buy two or three bottles of polish, and you don’t have any on your nails?”  Shalini replied, “Yeah, because I have them on my toes.”

© SEAN DRAKES

Previously published.

[ 404.654.0859  |  seandrakesphoto@gmail.com  ]

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